Owlet-nightjars are a small group of secretive, nocturnal insectivores. Seven of the nine extant species are found in New Guinea, with species also found in north Maluku (Indonesia), Australia, and New Caledonia. The name owlet-nightjar derives from the owl-like forward-facing eyes set in a facial disk combined with a small beak, rictal bristles, and large gape reminiscent of nightjars. However, appearances can be deceptive and owlet-nightjars are not related to nightjars (Order Caprimulgiformes), but to swifts and hummingbirds (Order Apodiformes). The extinct New Zealand owlet-nightjar was most closely related to the New Caledonian species Aegotheles savesi. Together, these two species are considered to have separated from the owlet-nightjars tree long before any of the other surviving species.
The New Zealand owlet-nightjar was the largest of all the owlet-nightjars. It is known only from isolated bones and partial skeletons, but reconstructions show the typical upright stance of the group. It is likely to have had a facial-disk and forward facing eyes, small bill with a large gape, relatively small wings, and long legs.
Distribution and habitat
Found throughout the North and South Islands in forest or heavily wooded habitats.
Threats and conservation
The New Zealand owlet-nightjar was probably extinct by the 13th Century due to predation by the Pacific rat (kiore, Rattus exulans) introduced when Polynesian settlers first arrived about a thousand years ago.
No information, but extant species lay white eggs in cavity nests.
Behaviour and ecology
While the New Zealand owlet-nightjar had a well developed keel on the sternum, its relatively small wings and long legs indicate that it was either flightless or a poor flier. It is thought to have been nocturnal, spending most of its time foraging on the forest floor for insects and, possibly, frogs and small reptiles.
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Michaux, B. 2013 [updated 2022]. New Zealand owlet-nightjar | Ruru hinapō. In Miskelly, C.M. (ed.) New Zealand Birds Online. www.nzbirdsonline.org.nz
New Zealand owlet-nightjar | Ruru hinapō
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